We received the terrible news that Thomas Merton, our fourteen-year old, has a tumor in his jaw and will likely die within a few weeks. He’d been drooling for the past several weeks and Corrie took him to the vet in our cat stroller. We’re shocked because other than that, he’s showed no symptoms of illness. And we attributed his mouth issues to the fact that he had two or three teeth removed in January and had something of a grimace ever since.
The vet asked Corrie if his tongue had been sticking out, but that had been the case for years. Apparently there’s nothing that can be done with this particular sort of tumor except to try to control the pain, and when he is no longer able to eat, that will be a sign that we need to let him die.
Merton came to us in the winter of 2000. Corrie had the bright idea, after we’d moved to Spartanburg, that Margery needed a friend. He had been found with his siblings in a box in an abandoned mill. A rescue organization found a foster home for him. He was about nine months old when he joined our family. The adoption process was quite rigorous. They made a home visit before placing him with us, and then after he’d been living with us for several weeks, they came back. This time, the foster family came along, including the little children, pre-schoolers. When we told them that we had named him Thomas Merton (our other cats were Maggie Pie and Margery, so we were going with “M”s), the little boy asked if that was a “Christian name” (they had called him “Lazarus”). The family were fundamentalists, and I suppose the boy worried that a name change might mean that Merton would burn in hell for eternity.
The idea of having a playmate for Margery never worked out. Merton was an alpha male and bonded with Corrie immediately. He is vocal, and playful. For years, he would play “ballie ball” with us. As soon as we got into bed at night to read, he would jump in the bed with one of his balls (spongie things the size of golf balls). He would drop it and start to meow until we tossed it across the room. He would run and catch it, bring it back. This would continue until we turned the lights out. He’ll still occasionally find one of these balls and bring it to us, but at fourteen, he’s content to watch us throw it.
Bodhi arrived as a tiny little kitten in 2003 and the two of them were fast friends (Merton always annoyed the two older cats, occasionally jumping them when they emerged from the litter box, or otherwise just terrorizing them). But when Pilgrim arrived at Thanksgiving 2004, Merton’s took to her. They could play for hours, often rough-housing throughout the house.
He’s slowed down considerably over the last few years but one thing hasn’t changed. He is incredibly affectionate and deeply attached to Corrie. He wants to be on her, or near almost all of the time. He usually sleeps between our pillows in the bed, depending on the mood he’ll lean on one or the other of us.
Oh, and like so many males, he’s never met an 18-year old girl he didn’t like. When Corrie was teaching at a women’s college and often had students over, he would be in the middle of the group, accepting their praise and their caresses as were his due.
My favorite picture of him is this one, where he seems to have just completed reading Augustine’s City of God, and has decided it wasn’t worth the effort (probably somewhere between 2002 and 2004):
Here is in his prime, somewhere between 2006 and 2009, proving that although he weighed 20 pounds, he could still act like a kitten.
Andrew Sullivan lost one of his beloved pet dogs over the weekend, and in the past few weeks has been blogging about what we learn as we watch our pets die.